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  • Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150–1330 by Sam Zeno Conedera, S.J.
  • Simon Barton
Ecclesiastical Knights: The Military Orders in Castile, 1150–1330. By Sam Zeno Conedera, S.J. [Fordham Series in Medieval Studies.] (New York: Fordham University Press. 2015. Pp. xii, 259. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-8232-6595-4.)

The medieval military orders have been subjected to extensive scholarly scrutiny in recent years. In the Anglosphere, thanks to the sterling work of such luminaries as Malcolm Barber, Alan Forey, Anthony Luttrell, Helen Nicholson, Jonathan Riley-Smith, and William Urban, to name just a few, we are now far better informed about the origins, organization, and activities of the orders. In an Iberian context, too, much important research on the chief orders of Calatrava, Santiago, and Alcántara has been carried out, but studies in English, particularly since the pioneering efforts of Derek Lomax and Joseph O'Callaghan, remain relatively limited. In Ecclesiastical Knights, Sam Zeno Conedera rejects the widely-used term of "warrior monks" to denote the members of the Orders, arguing forcefully and persuasively that the religious life pursued by the military brethren—both in the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere—was profoundly different from that of other religious movements. However, definition is only part of the author's agenda. More importantly, he seeks to explore the religious life of the orders, which has often been overshadowed in the scholarship by their military activities. The book is divided into four chapters. In the first, "Foundations," the reader is provided with a brisk overview of the genesis of the military orders, both in the Near East and Iberia, which helps to set the scene for what follows. Chapter 2, "Interior Castle: The Orders' Religious Observance," explores the spirituality of the orders, scrutinizing, in particular, their institutional structure, religious practices, and outlook, and concluding by considering the thorny subject of reform and decline. Chapter 3, "Ad extra: The Orders' Mission in the World," delineates the orders' key functions: waging war, caring for the sick, and helping to ransom captives. Finally, Chapter 4, "Brothers in Arms: The Orders' Relations with One Another," considers the dozen hermandades, or pacts, that were forged by Calatrava, Santiago, or Alcántara between 1150 and 1330, which highlight the considerable collaborative efforts that were made by the orders to ensure military co-operation, mutual hospitality, joint negotiation with other groups, legal assistance, and procedures for resolution of disputes. Throughout, Conedera demonstrates good command of the archival sources now housed in the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid, as well as the not inconsiderable body of printed source material. As the author himself recognizes, his book is to a large degree "a general picture" (p. 141) of the Iberian military orders. Most of the content will be familiar to specialists in the field and, as such, it cannot be said that the book supplants earlier and weightier contributions, most notably Carlos de Ayala y Martinez's magisterial Las órdenes militares hispánicas en la Edad Media (siglos XII–XV) (Madrid: Marcial Pons Historia/Latorre Literaria, 2003). Nonetheless, Conedera's thought-provoking and clearly-written study does shed useful light on the religious life of the rorders, and encourages us to recognize the extent to which the institutions and practices of knighthood were shaped by a dynamic range of ecclesiastical impulses. For English-speaking students, in particular, this study will be an invaluable guide to the subject. [End Page 570]

Simon Barton
University of Exeter


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